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The Grammy Award-winning Minnesota Orchestra, now in its second century and led by Music Director Osmo Vänskä, has long ranked among America’s top symphonic ensembles, with a distinguished history of acclaimed performances in its home state and around the world; award-winning recordings, radio broadcasts and educational outreach programs; and a visionary commitment to building the orchestral repertoire of tomorrow. Founded as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, the ensemble gave its inaugural performance on November 5, 1903, shortly after baseball’s first World Series and six weeks before the Wright brothers made their unprecedented airplane flight. The Orchestra played its first regional tour in 1907 and made its New York City debut in 1912 at Carnegie Hall, where it has performed regularly ever since. Outside the United States, the Orchestra has played concerts in Australia, Canada, Europe, the Far East, Latin America and the Middle East. Since 1968 it has been known as the Minnesota Orchestra. The ensemble now presents nearly 175 programs in a typical year, primarily at its recently renovated home venue of Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis, and its concerts are heard by live audiences of 350,000.
The Orchestra’s international tours have reaped significant praise, including a critically lauded 2010 tour of European festivals. During this tour the Orchestra performed at the Edinburgh International Festival, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and the BBC Proms in London—before cheering crowds totaling 12,000 for two concerts at Royal Albert Hall, one of which culminated in a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Under Music Director Osmo Vänskä, the ensemble has undertaken four European tours, appeared often at New York’s Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center, and toured to Greater Minnesota in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2014. The Orchestra’s recordings and broadcasts have drawn acclaim since the early 1920s, when the ensemble became one of the first to be heard via these media—notably making its radio debut in 1923 by playing a nationally broadcast concert under guest conductor Bruno Walter. Its landmark Mercury Living Presence LP recordings of the 1950s and 1960s, under Music Directors Antal Dorati and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, have been reissued on CD to great acclaim. Under Osmo Vänskä, the Orchestra has undertaken several acclaimed recording projects, primarily for BIS Records. In 2014 the Orchestra and Vänskä won their first Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance for a disc of Sibelius’ Symphonies No. 1 and 4.
Earlier recordings by the Orchestra and Vänskä include a five-disc cycle of the complete Beethoven symphonies that The New York Times wrote “may be the definitive cycle of our time.” The recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony received a 2008 Grammy nomination for Best Orchestral Performance, and the album featuring the Second and Seventh Symphonies was nominated for a 2009 Classic FM Gramophone Award. The Orchestra and Vänskä also recorded a two-CD set of Tchaikovsky’s piano-and-orchestra works with soloist Stephen Hough; a disc featuring Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony; two albums of piano concertos with Russian pianist Yevgeny Sudbin, the most recent of which includes Beethoven’s Third and Mozart’s 24th; and two recent albums of Sibelius symphonies, including the Grammy-winning disc of Symphonies No. 1 and 4 and a Grammy-nominated album of the Second and Fifth Symphonies. In late spring of 2015 Vänskä and the Orchestra will complete their cycle of Sibelius symphonies by recording the Third, Sixth and Seventh Symphonies.
The Orchestra’s Friday night performances are broadcast live regionally by Minnesota Public Radio, a weekly tradition for more than 40 years. Over the years, many programs have been subsequently featured on American Public Media’s national programs, SymphonyCast and Performance Today. In addition to offering traditional concerts, the Minnesota Orchestra typically connects with more than 85,000 music lovers annually through family concerts and educational programs including Young People’s Concerts, a series that marked its centennial during the 2011-12 season. In the last decade nearly half a million students have experienced a Minnesota Orchestra Young People’s Concert. With a long history of commissioning and performing new music, the Minnesota Orchestra nourishes a strong commitment to contemporary composers. Its annual Composer Institute offers up to seven emerging composers from around the nation an intense immersion into the orchestral world, culminating in a Future Classics concert led by Osmo Vänskä. Since 1903 the Orchestra has premiered and/or commissioned more than 300 compositions, including works by John Adams, Kalevi Aho, Dominick Argento (the Orchestra’s Composer Laureate), Aaron Copland, John Corigliano, Charles Ives, Aaron Jay Kernis, Libby Larsen, Stephen Paulus, Kevin Puts (Director of the Orchestra’s Composer Institute) and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (the Orchestra’s Conductor Laureate). During the 2014-15 season the Orchestra will premiere major new works of Steve Heitzeg and Eric Whitacre. In 2012 the Orchestra completed the innovative Musical MicroCommission Project, through which hundreds of music fans made “micro” donations that funded the creation of a major new orchestral work, Judd Greenstein’s Acadia, a work which will be performed again by the Orchestra in spring 2015.
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) has bestowed upon the Orchestra 20 awards for adventuresome programming, including five Leonard Bernstein Awards for Education Programming between 2005 and 2012 and, in 2008, the John S. Edwards Award for Strongest Commitment to New American Music. Osmo Vänskä’s first tenure as music director extended from 2003 to 2013; he accepted reappointment to that position in May 2014. Previous music directors of the Orchestra were: Emil Oberhoffer (1903-1922), Henri Verbrugghen (1923-1931), Eugene Ormandy (1931-1936), Dimitri Mitropoulos (1937-1949), Antal Dorati (1949-1960), Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (1960-1979), Neville Marriner (1979-1986), Edo de Waart (1986-1995) and Eiji Oue (1995-2002).